Banish These Words, 2016 Edition

Every season I note a new batch of trite, overused words cropping up in job and grant documents. I’ve already written about some of the most critical to banish from your vocabulary here, and here. Here is the newest set of words that need to go.

The first three are related to my post “adjectives are not arguments”. In my book, I elaborate on this issue: “The simple repetition of the words on this list, over and over in your documents, does not suggest that you have a coherent project, or make a compelling point, or advance an original argument. (…)They are white noise, and devoid of meaning.”

Innovative- If you have to say it, it ain’t so. Hardly anything in the academy is innovative, and if it is, then you should let your research speak for itself.

Rich- “Rich” is actually something that I call a “cheap” adjective. It doesn’t really tell us anything about your data, your project, your book, and it is incredibly vague. What exactly, is rich about the data? Unless you talk about money, don’t use this adjective.

Provocative-This often goes together with “innovative.” I know, I know, you’re a rebel. But, really, if you have or are getting a Ph.D., you’re as much of a rebel as Green Day are punk rock. And that’s ok- the one thing the academy is not looking for is rebels. They are looking for an intelligent colleague who will work with them.

On to nouns:

Thrust (in any lexical variation):  see my previous post on “deep”. Just no.

Lacuna- it’s pretentious, and nothing else. Using lacuna doesn’t make you look smarter, it doesn’t make your research better. See my post on grad student grandiosity.

Lacuna Matata, Kelsky out.

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Banish These Words, 2016 Edition — 8 Comments

  1. I don’t understand what’s wrong with lacuna. Isn’t it just another word for gap? Do you recommend using gap instead? Surely there are gaps in knowledge that research seeks to remedy, no?

    • 1) It’s pretentious. Write to express, never to impress. There is no reason to write lacuna instead of gap, ever. End of story. Just take Karen’s advice on this.
      2) From my perspective, even “gap” still comes across as too strong. You’re inviting someone to find an article or work that even remotely fits. Not every research gap needs to be filled. You can never go wrong with underexplored or something similar.

  2. Here’s one that is now over used: “leverage” or “leveraged.” I swear everything I read these days is about leveraging this or that. Everyone seems to think it makes them sound so smart or emphasizes their business acumen. It’s sad that humans do this to words.

  3. What about a “temporally rich dataset” or “spatially rich dataset?” These phrases are indeed telling us what is rich about the data. I guess “dense” would be another option, but “rich” doesn’t seem inherently more “devoid of meaning” to me.

  4. Lacuna ‘anata’, such a wonderful space. Lacuna ‘anata’ it means a pause in phrase. So there’s no matrix near that chondrocyte! It’s our fiber free, physiology…Lacuna ‘anata’!–I promise this is not on my job docs haha and thank you for this resource!

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